Movie List
Loading ...
Find Theaters and Movie Times
Search Movies

Bigger than legend

By CHRIS FUJIWARA  |  July 6, 2010

Looking, for Ray, has an immense and enigmatic force. Bitter Victory is an extreme film on, and of, looking, in which people are constantly being placed and re-placed in relation with one another, in an ever-renewed state of disorientation. In the near-absence of landmarks in the Libyan-desert setting, Ray manages to create a succession of visual threshold situations. The mirror relationship of the two main characters (Richard Burton, Curt Jurgens) reproduces the dream nature of cinema, each character serving both as the other's imaginary delegate and as his viewer.

WISE REBEL: You can count at least 11 masterpieces among Ray’s films, including Rebel Without a Cause.

Ray will often start a shot a little before the action assumes a definite form, as in the quiet prelude to James Dean's famous encounter with his parents on the stairs in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955; July 16 at 7 pm; August 7 at 7 pm), showing things as unsettled and in flux. By using, in succession, slightly different camera angles on the same event, he disturbs scenes so that they seem to be seeking an elusive balance or straining to burst out of their time-and-space constraints. People in Ray's films often don't leave the frame so much as tumble out of it in a frenzy, much as a group of teenagers scramble toward the edge of a cliff to face the proof of their mortality at the end of the chickie-run sequence of Rebel Without a Cause.

Ray invents movements that give both purpose and ambiguity to films. Nothing is more typical of his style than the combined awkwardness and grace in the last five shots of HOT BLOOD (1956; July 17 at 9 pm), as he places swirling-motion variations against abrupt start-and-stop rhythms. People in Ray's films sometimes turn round and round one another, improvising ballets at tangents to the narrative line. Bitter Victory makes a motif of such movements, as when some Arab children spin a British officer around in the street, or when the officer bumps into a cloth dummy, turning it around. In Party Girl, the removal of a bandage from Cyd Charisse's face is shown in a series of shots that elongate the suspenseful, slow curving motion.

Ray fills his films with moments that provoke, that can't be placed easily in the narrative but that suddenly free and make inescapable the experience inside it. A little boy points a wooden toy gun at John Derek in RUN FOR COVER (1955; July 16 at 9:15 pm); Cyd Charisse stares straight at Robert Taylor while her coat falls to the floor in Party Girl. Images like the son handing the football to his father at the climax of Bigger Than Life have a hallucinatory excess of clarity. In ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951; July 30 at 7 pm; August 2 at 7 pm), policeman Robert Ryan's self-hatred at the fade-out of the scene where he's about to beat a man into giving him information is more appalling than seeing the beating would be.

< prev  1  |  2  |  3  |   next >
Related: Cursed films, Camera obscura, Review: La Roux at the Paradise, More more >
  Topics: Features , Johnny Guitar, Nicholas Ray, Harvard Film Archive,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   THE PHANTOM WORLDS OF NINA MENKES  |  February 22, 2011
    A woman croupier drifts like a ghost through languidly lit hotel spaces, or submits to jackhammer missionary intercourse while an I'm-not-here expression hardens her turned-away face.  
  •   BIGGER THAN LEGEND  |  July 06, 2010
    Whatever truth may still come through the legend of Nicholas Ray — America's cinema poet of outlaws, outsiders, and adolescents, a self-destructive artist ruined by alcohol, drugs, and being too good for Hollywood — it's no longer a truth that Ray needs.
  •   REVIEW: PETITION  |  January 26, 2010
    This distressing documentary explores a netherworld of individuals who have come to Beijing from all over China hoping that their grievances against their local governments will be heard.
  •   PAUL SCHRADER AT THE HFA  |  January 29, 2009
    "I'm not sure what happened to me," says Paul Schrader's Patty Hearst, one of the least reliable of the director's succession of unreliable narrators, in the film named for her.
  •   SEPARATE WAYS  |  February 20, 2008
    Separation is the myth and the reality of Ritwik Ghatak’s cinema.

 See all articles by: CHRIS FUJIWARA